With just four regular season games left, the Clemson basketball season is nearing its end, but is Clemson’s six-game losing streak ready to end too? The Tigers are back at home and will try to end the skid. Coming to town are the surprising Wake forest Demon Deacons. Before the season we chalked this up as a likely win, but KenPom has it as a toss-up with Clemson having a 45% chance to win. We don’t know if the Tigers will have PJ Hall, but if not, that number obviously takes a big hit. To help us preview the game, we connected with friend of the blog, Robert Reinhard, from Winston-Salem, NC to tell us about his Demon Deacs!
Ryan: Wake Forest had not reach 20 wins since 2009-10 and went a paltry 6-16 last season in what was Steve Forbes first season. They now sit at 21-6 after an impressive win over Notre Dame. They’re a lock for the NCAA tournament in what is only Coach Forbes second year on the job. Tell us a bit about this head coaching hire and why you feel it is working out so well as we stand in year two.
Robert: I will start by giving our AD John Currie a ton of credit for finding a way to replace Danny Manning and hire Steve Forbes at the onset of COVID. I believe Wake Forest was the only Power Five job that opened after the 2020 season. Had it been a normal year we would’ve had a lot more competition for him, and who knows how things would’ve turned out.
He has been a home run hire to date. One big strength of his is that he’s been a great recruiter of transfers throughout his career thanks to the many relationships he has throughout the coaching ranks, and that’s been so big for us. With the new transfer rules, you’re no longer required to sit out a year as a non-graduate transfer, and that has allowed for a quick infusion of mature and talented players into our program. We’re also a very well-coached team because we play very good defense and primarily just take efficient shots on offense (3’s and shots near the basket).
Ryan: The Tigers have lost six-in-a-row and 10 of 12. Coach Brownell has only led Clemson past the Round of 64 once in his 12 years at Clemson (counting this season as a miss). At the same time, he runs a clean program and Clemson’s winningest basketball coach of all time. Can you give us an outsider’s take on Brownell and the Clemson program?
Robert: I think he’s fine and has done an admirable job, but it may be soon time for a change of pace. In briefly glancing at Clemson’s KenPom pages, it seems like his teams’ records don’t necessarily line up with how many they should win based on their efficiency rankings. That’s certainly frustrating as a fan, especially when it seems to routinely happen. Clemson presumably has money to spend given the success of their football program, so I would probably go after a new coach if I was the Clemson AD.
Ryan: Clemson’s season is effectively over, but I still want to ask you about this particular game. Winning on the road in the ACC is tough (although Wake has done it several times this year). What can Clemson do that worries you heading into this contest? Do all concerns go out the window if Clemson’s star center PJ Hall is out?
Robert: You’re absolutely right that winning on the road in the ACC is tough. It can make a big difference for a variety of reasons and you see that in results and in point spreads. For example, Wake was a bigger favorite at home against ND than they were on the road against NC State. It certainly worries me that Clemson has the capability of getting hot from the outside. Al-Amir Dawes and Alex Hemenway shoot very high percentages from deep on decent volume, and you have a number of other very capable shooters. I would say those concerns are still present if Hall is out, but they are certainly alleviated given that it will be heavily dependent on perimeter shooting and not have a nice inside-out combo.
Ryan: Clemson fans likely haven’t watched much of Wake Forest this season. What is player or general style we should be looking out for from the Demon Deacons?
Robert: Clemson fans should be aware of guard Alondes Williams and forward Jake LaRavia. Both have won ACC Player of the Week at different points this year and both are NBA caliber players. Williams is currently leading the league in points and assists. He can get downhill to the basket and is also one of the best passers in the country, though at times he can get turnover prone. LaRavia is patient and efficient offensively who can create both for himself and others. In general, we run a lot of motion and will find a way to get the ball to the open man.
Ryan: Finally, any serious worry about an upset or do you feel pretty good going into this one?
Robert: I believe that Wake wins this game, but I certainly acknowledge that it’s not a foregone conclusion. If Hall is out I’ll feel much more confident, but it’s not like you’ll be playing 4 on 5. You’ll still be placing an ACC-caliber player in his place, he just won’t be an All-ACC caliber player like Hall has been this year.